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Pregnancy Cravings: When You Gotta Have It!

Pregnancy and food cravings go hand in hand; 3 experts offer suggestions for healthy cravings.


While pica -- eating non-nutritive substances -- is not well understood, Bernstein says sometimes these cravings represent a nutritional deficiency, particularly a need for iron, though he says there are no studies to prove this is always the case.

In some instances, Bernstein tells WebMD that the cravings can also have a cultural or ethnic component, one which actually fosters eating these dangerous nonfood items.

"The craving is there, and then fulfilling it is encouraged within certain cultural communities," says Bernstein.

Among the most dangerous aspects of pica is the consumption of lead -- particularly when women eat dirt or clay. This can lead to infant and child developmental problems with low verbal IQ scores, impaired hearing and motor skill development. Other research has shown an increased risk of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders in infant exposure to lead before birth.

"I've had women and their babies develop lead poisoning from eating dirt during pregnancy; the neurological damage can be overwhelming," says Bernstein.

If you do find yourself craving any nonfood item, experts say see your doctor immediately and be tested for iron deficiency anemia or other nutritional deficiencies such as zinc, which has also been linked to pica.

For most women, pregnancy food cravings fall into just a few categories: sweet, spicy, salty, or occasionally sour. Surveys show only a scant 10% of pregnant women crave fruits and veggies during pregnancy, with a desire to gobble down foods such as peaches, blueberries, or broccoli not high on the "must have" scale.

And in fact, that's one reason doctors sometimes raise a red flag about pregnancy cravings.

"My biggest concern is when food cravings replace good nutrition -- in other words, a woman will fill up on the foods she craves and skip the nutritious foods her body and her baby really need," says Rebarber.

Not only can this cause serious deficiencies in both baby and mom, since oftentimes the foods we crave during pregnancy can be laden with empty calories, it can also lead to gaining too much weight; a problem that doctors say is on the rise.

Rebarber explains that because the population, as a whole, weighs more, it's not uncommon for overweight women to get pregnant -- meaning there is an even greater need to ensure she doesn't gain an excessive amount of weight during her pregnancy.

Indeed, a Scandinavian study of 600 pregnant women published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2002 showed that excessive weight gain during pregnancy increased the risk of preeclampsia (a life-threatening condition often characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure), as well as a series of labor and delivery problems.

According to the Institute of Medicine, if you are of normal weight before pregnancy, you should aim to gain between 25 and 35 pounds while pregnant. But if you're overweight at the time of conception, your goal pregnancy weight should be no more than 15 to 25 pounds.

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